Tag Archive | "Lardarius Webb"

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Cary Williams could be solid veteran option for Ravens

Posted on 03 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years after signing a three-year, $17 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was released on Tuesday, leading to immediate speculation of a potential reunion in Baltimore.

The Ravens’ issues at cornerback last season were no secret and Williams left the organization with no ill feelings two offseasons ago, making it plausible that the sides could reconcile at the right price. Williams, 30, is coming off a season in which he struggled for the Eagles’ 31st-ranked passing game, but the Ravens could view him as a nice veteran insurance policy while still aiming to add a cornerback for the future in the first few rounds of this year’s draft.

Williams has started all 16 games in each of his last four seasons and transformed himself from a former practice-squad member and special-teams player to a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl XLVII champions. The Ravens offered Williams a three-year, $15 million contract prior to his final year in Baltimore, but the Washburn College product elected to play out the 2012 season before accepting a better offer from the Eagles a little over a month after the Super Bowl.

Though the Ravens would ideally view Williams as a No. 3 cornerback, the status of veteran Lardarius Webb could change that as Baltimore tries to restructure his contract currently slated to carry a $12 million cap figure during the 2015 season. If general manager Ozzie Newsome were to part ways with Webb to clear cap space, a veteran like Williams could become even more attractive as the Ravens would want to avoid entering the draft needing a cornerback to start immediately.

Opinionated and sometimes brash on the field, Williams butted heads with Chip Kelly over how much the Eagles head coach was making players work during practices last fall, but the Ravens’ familiarity with the veteran defensive back might give them an advantage over other potential suitors who might be scared off by his attitude.

Ultimately, such a reunion would come down to money more than anything else as the Eagles cut Williams before he was scheduled to make $6.5 million in base salary this coming season. He would need to take substantially less in any potential return to the place where he established himself as an NFL-caliber cornerback.

Given the Ravens’ need at the position, turning to a durable and known commodity who’s already familiar with Dean Pees’ system would appear to be a solid short-term option while they could look to the draft to find a cornerback of the future.

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl XLIX now in the books and the 2014 season officially over, the Ravens are continuing to make plans for 2015 as they evaluate a tight salary cap and try to improve from a 10-6 campaign that resulted in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The NFL has yet to set the 2015 salary cap, which is projected to increase from $133 million this past season to somewhere between $138 million and $142 million for the upcoming year. That’s good news for the Ravens as they currently own a commitment of over $137 million for players currently under contract, per Spotrac.com.

With a slew of key free agents to address as well as visions of trying to improve other areas of the roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome will face some difficult decisions pertaining to several veterans on the roster. That begins and ends with five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, who is entering the final season of a five-year, $61 million deal signed in 2011. Easily one of the best players in franchise history, the 31-year-old defensive tackle finds himself in a similar position to the one Terrell Suggs was in last year before he signed a contract extension to lower his 2014 cap figure.

A name not included on the list of potential cap casualties below is tight end Dennis Pitta, whose $4 million base salary for 2015 is guaranteed. It remains unclear whether Pitta will play football again after suffering two serious hip injuries in two years, but cutting him this offseason would increase his cap figure for 2015.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player are offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. DE Chris Canty ($2.66 million)
Skinny: The 32-year-old may take this decision out of the Ravens’ hands as he acknowledged at the end of the season that he’s contemplating retirement. Injuries limited his production in 2014, and the Ravens will likely push to re-sign the underrated Lawrence Guy while looking toward young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to be factors at Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot. With so many other pressing needs elsewhere and a few younger options at this position, Canty returning would be more of a luxury than a necessity for next season, making it likely that he’s played his final game with Baltimore.

2. WR Jacoby Jones ($750,000)
Skinny: On the surface, the minimal savings gained by cutting the return specialist now wouldn’t appear worth it, but you have to wonder where Jones fits after falling behind the likes of Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken on the depth chart and not appearing as explosive in the return game in 2014. A possible strategy would be to designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $2.5 million in savings for the summer and autumn when the Ravens need a “rainy day” fund to account for injuries. The only problem with that strategy is his scheduled 2015 cap number of $3.375 million staying on the books during the first few months of free agency, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a place for Jones moving forward.

3. LB Albert McClellan ($1 million)
Skinny: A core member of Jerry Rosburgh’s special teams units over the last few years, McClellan has been a reliable player, but other young inside linebackers such as Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are cheaper and should be ready to handle more responsibility. Of course, we’re not talking about a great deal of savings here, but veteran special-teams players are typically among the first to go when teams are dealing with cap pains.

4. P Sam Koch ($2.5 million)
Skinny: Many assumed Koch would be a cap casualty last year with his high price tag for a punter, but the Ravens value his ability a great deal and regard him as one of the best in the NFL. That said, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a long-term contract over the next 12 months. If Koch is willing to sign a team-friendly extension to lower his cap number, the Ravens would be more than happy to keep him around, but they probably can’t afford to pay their kicker and punter in the top 10 at their respective positions. Entering the final year of his contract, Koch is more likely to be a casualty this year than he was last offseason.

5. DT Haloti Ngata ($8.5 million)
Skinny: The only certainty is that the longtime Raven won’t be playing for his scheduled $16 million cap figure. Whether that means he signs an extension like Suggs or is cut remains to be seen. Ngata’s 2014 season was his best in a few years, but his four-game suspension for Adderall use allowed the Ravens to take an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who played very well in the 31-year-old’s absence. The sides talked about an extension last season with little progress, so it will be interesting to see how motivated Ngata is to make amends for his suspension and finish his career in Baltimore. The Ravens must be smart as it’s typically unwise to throw money at defensive linemen on the wrong side of 30.

6. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million)
Skinny: It was a disappointing year for the 29-year-old after he missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season with a back injury. Since suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career in 2012, Webb has looked like nothing better than average, which is problematic when he’s carrying a $12 million cap figure for 2015. However, cutting him this winter would only save $2 million and create less depth at a position where the Ravens are already looking to improve. Newsome may ask Webb to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens depleting their depth at cornerback further — even if he’s no more than average at this pointby cutting him outright for minimal savings.

 

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In end, Ravens couldn’t overcome biggest weakness

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Reflecting on Saturday’s season-ending 35-31 loss to New England, the Ravens know there were other reasons why they didn’t advance to the AFC Championship.

A last-minute interception by quarterback Joe Flacco tarnished what had been a banner day for him and a Ravens offense that produced at least 30 points for the second straight week. The decision to take the deep shot, the effort by wide receiver Torrey Smith to break it up, and the throw itself all came under scrutiny, but the offense had been more than good enough to win for the first 58 minutes of the game.

The vaunted pass rush that ranked second in the NFL with 49 sacks during the regular season managed to sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady only twice with neither coming in the second half as the Ravens squandered a 14-point lead — their second of the night — in the third quarter. Baltimore had accumulated four or more sacks in each of its last eight wins and was 0-5 over that same stretch when failing to reach that plateau.

But it was the Ravens’ greatest weakness that ultimately led to their demise as the secondary was exposed and exploited by Brady and New England’s passing game. In giving up 408 passing yards and four touchdown passes — one thrown by Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman — the Ravens cannnot be fooled by the statistical improvement in the final month of the season that came against opposing passing games led by Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Connor Shaw. Baltimore ranked 31st in pass defense entering the final month of the regular season before rallying to finish 23rd.

Fixing the secondary will be a major undertaking for general manager Ozzie Newsome, who misread the Ravens’ depth at cornerback last offseason long before a rash of injuries decimated the position. There are no easy solutions as every notable member of the unit faces a significant question this offseason and secondary coach Steve Spanguolo could draw interest as a potential defensive coordinator elsewhere.

Top cornerback Jimmy Smith will be returning from a Lisfranc injury and is scheduled to make $6.898 million in the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL before the foot ailment cut his season short in October, Smith is someone the Ravens would like to keep for the long run, but it’s difficult to ignore the reality that he’s missed 17 games in four seasons when considering the significant money it will likely require to keep him.

Veteran Lardarius Webb made a team-high 11 starts at cornerback, but he carries a $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season. After once appearing on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player, Webb will be entering his seventh season and played like no more than average at best after returning from a back injury that cost him all of training camp and three games at the start of the season. Two surgically-repaired knees on top of the back ailment make you wonder if his 5-foot-10, 182-pound body is failing him at this stage of his career.

Cutting Webb would only save $2 million in cap space — he has three years remaining on a six-year, $50 million contract signed in 2012 — and the Ravens would need to replace him in the starting defense, but it’s difficult to justify his salary for such lackluster play for much of the 2014 campaign.

Safety Will Hill was a rare bright spot in the secondary after starting the final eight games upon coming off a six-game suspension, but can the Ravens trust him to stay out of trouble and remain committed to the game? The Ravens wouldn’t figure to have difficulty keeping the restricted free agent, but he’ll need to prove Baltimore right in giving him a second chance before a long-term commitment is even considered.

The in-house options look grim beyond that.

Even if it’s too soon to declare Matt Elam a complete bust, there’s no sugarcoating how disappointing the 2013 first-round pick has been through his first two seasons. In fairness, Elam was forced to play out of position again for much of the year, but he also led the Ravens in missed tackles, which is a problem considering his tackling was viewed as a strength of his coming out of the University of Florida.

Third-round safety Terrence Brooks offered a few glimpses of potential amidst typical struggles of a rookie, but a knee injury cut his season short and the Ravens couldn’t have seen enough to feel comfortable in moving forward with him as a guaranteed starter.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was a nice story in becoming a starter late in the year after being signed off the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad in early November, but the Patriots completed 15 of 19 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns, and a 150.9 passer rating against him in coverage. He proved himself enough to be a solid option for depth, but no more than that at this point.

Injuries limited Asa Jackson to just seven games and his pass coverage wasn’t overly impressive when he played.

Safeties Darian Stewart and Jeromy Miles and cornerback Danny Gorrer are unrestricted free agents, and cornerback Anthony Levine is a restricted free agent.

The draft appears to be the most logical outlet to seek improvement for 2015 and beyond, but the Ravens won’t pick until 26th overall and rookie cornerbacks don’t often provide an immediate impact in significant roles. Baltimore can look no farther than Smith’s selection in 2011 as evidence with the 6-foot-2 University of Colorado product disappointing in his first two years before establishing himself as a starter in 2013.

The Ravens don’t need a top 10 secondary with the strength of their front seven, but it was apparent that even an average secondary might have carried them to at least an AFC Championship appearance.

It will be up to Newsome to make the necessary improvement for 2015.

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Snap Counts

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Baltimore Ravens – Snap Counts vs Steelers

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here is a break down of the snap count of every offensive and defensive player, in the Ravens’ win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offense:

57 – LT James Hurst – he played the whole game, and struggled mightily vs James Harrison

57 – LG Kelechi Osemele – had some problems in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game

57 – C Jeremy Zuttah – got pushed back in to Joe Flacco time and time again. He has to do better against the Patriots

57 – RG John Urshel – graded out well overall. Had a better night pass blocking than run blocking

57 – RT Marshal Yanda – best offensive lineman in the league. Pass blocked well and was a road grader in the run game

57 – QB Joe Flacco – threw 2 TDs, managed the offense well, and didn’t turn the ball over. “January Joe.”

54 – TE Owen Daniels – struggled with pass blocking, but was a factor in the passing game; caught 4 for 70 yards

50 – RB Justin Forsett – didn’t have a great running night running the ball, lost a fumble, but capably blocked blitzing LBs from the A gaps

40 – WR Torrey Smith – caught an 11 yard TD pass from Flacco; missed a certain TD when he didn’t drag his foot in the end zone

39 – TE Crockett Gillmore – caught a 21 yard TD from Flacco; blocked whistle to whistle

35 – WR Steve Smith – made a couple of tough catches in traffic; caught 5 for 101 yards

25 – WR Kamar Aiken – caught just 1 pass for 4 yards

20 – FB Kyle Juszczyk – caught 2 for 16 yards

13 – WR Marlon Brown – caught 1 for 9 yards

5 – WR Jacoby Jones – caught 1 for 9 yards

4 – RB Bernard Pierce – just 1 rushing attempt but it was good for a 5 yard TD

Defense:

76 – ILB Daryl Smith – save for the TD pass given up to Antonio Brown, he was stout vs the pass as well as the run

75 – CB Lardarius Webb – he was targeted a lot by Roethlisberger, and had an ok game overall

74 – ILB CJ Mosley – was solid vs the run but struggled in pass coverage

72 – FS Will Hill – was solid vs the run and even better vs the pass; defended well all night long

66 – CB  Rashaan Melvin – did a really good job in pass coverage, came up in run support

56 – OLB Terrell Suggs – stopped the run, pressured the QB, didn’t get a sack, but got a sick interception

52 – DT Haloti Ngata – looked fresh all game long, collapsed the pocket and applied pressure up the middle, got one sack

49 – SS – Darian Stewart – played one of his best games all season; got the game ending pick

47 – OLB Elvis Dumervil – applied great pressure from the edge consistently; ended up with 2 sacks

46 – OLB Pernell McPhee – had an outstanding game overall; was a force vs the run, and hit the QB a few times

39 – OLB Courtney Upshaw – did a great job setting the edge as usual; defended the pass well

31 – NT Brandon Williams – no one is going to move him backwards; applied consistent pressure through the A gaps; 1 sack

31 – DE Chris Canty – stopped the run and pressured the QB on numerous occassions

31 – CB Anthony Levine – the converted safety struggled in pass coverage; it was clear Roethlisberger was looking for him

29 – FS Jeromy Miles – solid game overall, but had a couple of lapses in pass coverage

29 – CB Matt Elam – yes, the SS played corner most of the night, and played the position well overall; was strong in pass coverage

13 – DE DeAngelo Tyson – was brought in on obvious passing downs; did not have a good night, did not apply pressure

11 – DE Lawrence Guy – did a solid job defending the run in his limited action on the field

6 – CB Antone Cason – came is when Melvin was shaken up; let up a catch during Melvin’s short absence

2 – ILB Albert McClellan – was only in for two plays; obviously not enough field time to analyze performance

1- SS Brynden Trawick – same as McClellan

Special Team notes – Justin Tucker was lights out as usual. The 52 yarder was particularly special, as you don’t see too many successful field goals at Heinz Field over 50 yards. Sam Koch had a good night – save for the blocked punt which was due to blocking assignment breakdowns. He was also directionally kicking it away from Antonio Brown, and that factored in as well. Jacoby Jones did not have a good night. He lost his footing and slipped during his first kick off return, and seemed tentative after that. Michael Campanaro had a couple of fair catches on punt returns. Hope his hamstring has healed to the point where he could be a factor vs the Patriots

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Slowing Antonio Brown critical to Ravens continuing playoff run

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As many focus on the status of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell for Saturday’s playoff game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens know an ability to contain Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown would go a long way in trying to advance to the divisional round.

The 5-foot-10 Brown continues to defy the odds as a former sixth-round pick who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 receiving yards while catching a career-high 13 touchdown passes in 2014. And he presents the biggest challenge to a Ravens pass defense that’s played better in recent weeks but still ranked 24th in pass defense during the regular season.

“A lot of guys when they [discuss] who the best receiver in the game is, they want to look at the big, tall, dominant guys like Calvin [Johnson] and Dez [Bryant],” said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who labeled Brown as an elite receiver a few years ago when he was still playing in the shadow of former Steeler Mike Wallace. “With Antonio, he can do it all. He’s not the biggest guy, so a lot of guys might not want to say he’s the best receiver in the game because of his size. He can do a lot of things on that field to say, ‘Man, why not be the best receiver in the game?’”

After Jimmy Smith shadowed Brown in holding him to a quiet seven catches for 90 yards in a 26-6 win over the Steelers in Week 2, the Ravens faced Brown’s wrath in the regular-season rematch in Pittsburgh — a week after their top cornerback was lost for the season — in which he caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown in a 43-23 final on Nov. 2. It remains to be seen whether Webb will draw the exclusive assignment of following Brown, but the Ravens haven’t done any mirroring of receivers since Smith was injured, instead keeping each starting cornerback on the same sides of the field.

Baltimore will obviously try to roll safety help to Brown’s side as much as possible, but Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley likes moving the speedy receiver all over the field. In addition to being targeted 25 times on passes 20 or more yards down field in the regular season, Brown also lines up in the slot at least a handful of times per game, which would create a significant problem if the Ravens are to use Matt Elam in certain nickel situations.

If a defense shows its hand too drastically in trying to bracket Brown, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been afraid to go elsewhere in throwing for a career-high 4,952 yards in 2014. But Brown remains his most dangerous weapon with his 615 yards after the catch rank third in the NFL.

“He’s all over. They can screen him, they can stack,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “But the thing of it is I think Ben also sees what the coverage is, and all of a sudden, you’re rolling it. He’s not afraid to go to [Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton]. [Tight end Heath Miller] has always been a security blanket for him, and the guy has always made a clutch catch in clutch times.”

A Ravens secondary that’s been ravaged by injuries throughout the season is feeling better about itself heading into the postseason, but Roethlisberger and Brown present a far more imposing quarterback-receiver duo than anything seen over the final quarter of the season. Baltimore’s ability to slow the Steelers offense will once again come down to the pass rush, but Roethlisberger has shown an ability to get rid of the ball quickly in averaging just 2.5 seconds in the pocket before throwing, which Pro Football Focus ranked sixth in the NFL.

The faces have changed in the secondary since the Week 9 blowout in Pittsburgh as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown were both cut and current starting cornerback Rashaan Melvin wasn’t even on the team at the time. Pees and several members of the secondary have credited continuity in recent weeks as a reason for the improvement.

“The last couple games we’ve been playing good ball all over the field,” Melvin said. “That confidence going into the playoffs is going to help us a lot. We just want to go in and play the best ball we can play as a second and as a defense in general and to go in there and do our assignments.”

Even if the Ravens are able to limit Brown’s opportunities as a receiver, they’ll need to watch out for him as a punt returner as Cincinnati found out last week when he returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He ranked eighth in the NFL in punt return average this season and tied for sixth in return attempts, showing he isn’t conservative as a returner despite being valued as one of the best wide receivers in football.

His expansive skill set not only makes him one of the best receivers in the NFL but one of the best players overall. And the Ravens will have their hands full in trying to slow him enough to be able to continue playing beyond Saturday night.

“The same thing that makes him dangerous as a receiver makes him dangerous as a returner,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s very aggressive. He’s highly talented. He has a competitive spirit about him. He wants to make plays, and he has done it. He’s a very good player. We have to be at our best.”

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Ravens cornerback Jackson to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An unfortunate year at the cornerback position only got worse Monday with the news that Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Jackson suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Harbaugh ruled out safety Terrence Brooks (knee) for the rest of the season immediately after Sunday’s game as the rookie suffered a PCL injury on the opening kickoff against the Jaguars.

Jackson’s injury doesn’t sound as serious as Brooks’ ailment, but the timetable would not allow him to return quickly enough to justify carrying him on the roster for the final weeks of the season.

“He’s got a PCL [injury]. It’s like a five-week injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll be ruling him out the rest of the way.”

With Jackson becoming the fifth Ravens cornerback to be placed on injured reserve this season, four cornerbacks remain on the 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Rashaan Melvin, Anthony Levine, and the recently-signed veteran Antoine Cason. Jackson spent two months on IR-designated to return with a turf toe injury earlier this season and had just been activated in Week 14.

The Ravens have yet to officially place Jackson and Brooks on IR, but they will take another peek at what’s available on the free-agent market, something general manager Ozzie Newsome should be used to doing this season.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you have enough depth to get you through, so we’ll be looking at all of our options,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one thing to hope to have a guy, and it’s another thing to find a guy. We’re just looking at our options right now as we speak, and we’ll have some answers probably over the next two days on that.”

Melvin received the bulk of the opportunities when Jackson exited on Sunday, making five tackles and a pass breakup in his first NFL game. The sixth-year veteran Cason

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are in even worse shape at the quarterback position as they’re set to welcome the Ravens to NRG Stadium in Week 16.

Head coach Bill O’Brien announced rookie quarterback Tom Savage will miss this Sunday’s game with a knee injury after he replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in their Sunday loss to Indianapolis after the veteran suffered a broken leg. Those injuries coupled with Ryan Mallett previously going down for the season with a shoulder injury mean the Texans will be turning to their fourth quarterback of the 2014 seson.

Who that will be remains to be seen as O’Brien will choose between Thad Lewis and Case Keenum, who was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason and spent most of the year with the St. Louis Rams before being signed off their practice squad by Houston on Monday morning.

“We’ll try to anticipate as best we can how we think they’ll attack us — scheme-wise and philosophically how they’ll approach the game — and try to gear our game plan and our reps accordingly as best we can,” Harbaugh said. “Who plays quarterback is definitely a part of that. We’ll be looking at that, and we’ll have to prepare for both of those two [quarterbacks].”

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s no big secret to Sunday’s game between the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If the Ravens are the playoff-caliber team they’ve shown themselves to be for much of the 2014 season, there won’t be any drama as they try to improve to 9-5. It’s difficult to call this one a trap game when 2-11 Jacksonville hasn’t won a game on the road all year and the Ravens win the games they’re supposed to — especially at home — in the John Harbaugh era.

The Ravens know they’re guaranteed a playoff spot by winning their final three games, but Sunday is the closest they’ll get to a sure thing the rest of the way with a challenging trip to Houston next week and a season-finale against Cleveland that will likely carry plenty of pressure. Meanwhile, the struggling Jaguars are now dealing with the season-ending loss of starting running back Denard Robinson due to a sprained foot.

It’s time to go on the record as these old AFC Central foes meet for the 18th time in regular-season history with the Jaguars holding a 10-7 edge. However, the Ravens are 5-4 in Baltimore and have won seven of the last nine meetings. Jacksonville won the last regular-season game between these teams, a 12-7 final on Oct. 24, 2011.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to move a step closer toward securing a playoff spot …

1. Terrell Suggs will pick up 2 1/2 sacks working against Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel. Opposing offensive lines haven’t been able to slide protection because of the pressure the Ravens have created from both edges this season, but you wonder if the Jaguars will pay more attention to Elvis Dumervil, who last week set the single-season franchise record in pushing his sack total to 16. Despite being the second overall pick of the 2013 draft, Joeckel has struggled mightily in his sophomore season and Suggs will take advantage to try to close the gap in the sack department. The Ravens shouldn’t have any trouble making rookie quarterback Blake Bortles uncomfortable with the 12th-year linebacker leading the effort.

2. With Torrey Smith limited, Marlon Brown will catch his first touchdown of the season. The Ravens surprisingly listed Smith as probable on their final injury report, but they’ll try to limit throwing him into the fire as much as possible on Sunday to rest his sprained knee, which will mean more opportunities for Brown and Kamar Aiken. It’s been a disappointing season for Brown after a surprising rookie year, but he’s been more involved with the offense since the bye week, a trend that will continue against the league’s 18th-ranked pass defense. Justin Forsett and the running game figures to be featured heavily, but quarterback Joe Flacco will find Brown in the red zone for a score.

3. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts will rein in a score in a rare highlight for the Jaguars on Sunday. If Jacksonville can find even a little time for Bortles in the pocket, it’s no secret that the Baltimore pass defense is vulnerable and ranked 31st in the NFL. The Jaguars figure to be throwing the ball a lot if they fall behind like most would expect, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will play soft coverage in the back end as the game goes on. Bortles has shown flashes of promise when he hasn’t been annihilated in the pocket — Jacksonville has allowed an incredible 54 sacks this season — and he’ll orchestrate a nice scoring drive finished off with a short touchdown to Shorts.

4. Lardarius Webb will secure his first interception in what’s been a difficult season. The sixth-year cornerback is healthier now than he was earlier in the season, but it’s been a disappointing year for Webb as his future with the Ravens is in question due to his $12 million cap figure in 2015. However, the Jaguars don’t have any receivers that should scare the Ravens, and Bortles has thrown 16 interceptions in 379 pass attempts. The Ravens secondary hasn’t been able to create many turnovers this season, but the Jaguars are tied for 26th in the NFL with a minus-8 turnover margin. Webb will pick off his first pass of the season to set the Ravens up on a short field.

5. The Ravens will emphatically handle a team they’re supposed to beat in a 31-13 final. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but this one is as close as it gets with an opponent having nothing to play for coming to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens, who have very little margin for error as they try to make it back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Short of something catastrophic such as a multiple-turnover performance or an injury to Flacco, the Ravens just aren’t going to let the lowly Jaguars beat them. It won’t be a flawless performance — the Ravens never seem to make it quite as easy as they should in these spots — but the home crowd will ultimately go home happy after the win.

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Ravens pass defense on pace to be worst in franchise history

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens entering the final quarter of the regular season following Sunday’s disappointing 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the pass defense will need to raise its level of play substantially to avoid a dubious distinction.

Giving up 376 yards in the air as San Diego’s Philip Rivers picked them apart, the 7-5 Ravens are now on pace to surrender 4,383 yards through the air in 2014, which would shatter the franchise-worst mark of 3,969 set in the inaugural 1996 season. That year, Baltimore finished 4-12 with a pass defense that finished last in the NFL.

The Ravens woke up Monday morning ranked 31st in the league in pass defense with only the Atlanta Falcons surrendering more yards through the air.

Where are Isaac Booth, Donny Brady, and Antonio Langham when you need them?

Of course, we’re in the midst of a pass-happy era in which offense reigns supreme — making the numbers difficult to compare to those of 18 years ago — but the Ravens haven’t had any answers in a secondary that was already facing questions long before significant injuries suffered by starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury, and Webb continues to look like a shell of his former self after a back injury that took away his entire training camp and forced him out of three of the first four games of the regular season.

The Ravens have been unfortunate, but they were also poorly prepared to handle any injuries on the back end of the defense.

After former No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham departed via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add any quality depth behind his starters in the offseason, instead counting on Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown to pick up the slack. Instead Jackson suffered a serious turf toe injury in Week 5 — he could return as soon as next Sunday’s game in Miami — and Brown struggled so mightily that Baltimore waived him in early November.

As a result, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been forced to turn to journeyman Danny Gorrer and former safety Anthony Levine to go along with a struggling Webb. Many are inclined to blame coaching whenever a unit struggles, but you can only be so creative with schemes — the Ravens tried just about everything on Sunday — to overcome such personnel deficiencies.

The safety position has been just as problematic with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam being a major disappointment in his second season. Pees has used a carousel of names — Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick, and rookie Terrence Brooks at various times — with only Will Hill looking to be a solid option at this stage of the season.

As for the record books, the Ravens will receive a respite from playing Pro Bowl quarterbacks as they’re slated to face Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, and either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel — maybe both? — in the season finale against Cleveland. That said, Tannehill is in the midst of a good third season with the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick is coming off a six-touchdown performance in Week 13, so it won’t be a total cakewalk of opposing quarterbacks.

You can only hope Sunday was rock bottom for the pass defense as the Ravens will need an excellent final month to catch the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North or at least advance to the playoffs after last year’s absence.

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Webb named Ravens’ Ed Block Courage Award winner

Posted on 22 November 2014 by Luke Jones

In the midst of a difficult season that started with a debilitating back injury in training camp, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb has been recognized for not giving up.

The 29-year-old was named this year’s recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award winner, which was voted on by his Ravens teammates. Webb missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season after going down with lower back spams on the second day of summer practices.

In seven games, Webb has made 29 tackles and six pass breakups while trying to work his way back to pre-injury form. Unfortunately, the 2009 third-round pick is no stranger to injuries in his career as he has suffered torn anterior cruciate ligament tears in both knees, one in his rookie season and the other in 2012.

In six NFL seasons, the Nicholls State product has collected 284 tackles, 69 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

Last year’s winner was former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who overcame a serious neck injury in 2012 to resume his playing career.

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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

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